Liar by Justine Larbalestier

liarUsually an unreliable narrator creeps up on you.  You notice an inconsistency here and there, something about the story doesn’t feel quite right, you start to get suspicious.  It’s almost a game – you look for the clues that prove you’re being lied to.  But Justine Larbalestier changes the rules of the game.  It’s right there on the cover, staring at you in capital letters: LIAR.  There’s no need to look for the proof – it’s admitted from the first time you see the book.  But there’s a different game being played here.  It’s a game of teasing admissions and sly winks.  When Micah admits that something she said earlier in the novel was a lie, what do you believe?  The title puts the reader on notice – you’re on your toes looking for the truth from the very first sentence.  It makes for a frustrating reading experience in many ways.  But it’s that delicious, thought-provoking kind of frustration that I love.

Micah is a compulsive liar, just like her dad.  When she started at her school, she had everyone convinced that she was a boy for several days.  No one believes much of anything that she says anymore, if they pay her any attention at all.  But when Zach, a popular boy from Micah’s class, is found dead in a suspected murder, the eyes of the school are suddenly back on Micah.  Micah was Zach’s “after-hours” girlfriend – which comes as a shock to the unbelieving student body and Zach’s other girlfriend, Sarah. From these basics, Larbalestier leads us down some unexpected twists and turns.

Now, of course, any kind of plot description is not something you can take at face value.  Is any of what I just said true?  No idea.  Go ahead and dive in – see if you can separate fact from fiction.  And if you figure it out, let me know.  There’s also the question of why Micah lies.  She’s got her version:

“Really, according to the shrinks, I am angry at everyone.  Especially them.

I am all anger and resentment all the time.

Not one of them has ever suggested that maybe I lie because the world is better the way I tell it.” (pg. 266. Quoted from ARC – text may change.)

It’s an interesting question, and there are a lot of possible answers hinted at in the text.  But if the world really is better the way Micah tells it, I would hate to live in her world – this is a dark book.  Many of her lies stem directly from Zach’s death – this is not just a story about lying, but also a story about grief.  The reader is privy to Micah’s extreme reactions to Zach’s sudden death, and also gets glimpses of how his girlfriend Sarah and his best friend Tayshawn deal with the loss of a friend.  Their reactions are appropriately complex, often touching, and occasionally kind of creepy.

My favorite thing about this book is Micah’s uneasy relationship with her lying.  At times, I was absolutely convinced that she desperately wants to be able to tell the truth.  Sometime she believes her own lies, especially those lies that really do make her world easier for her to live in.  At other times her lies are manipulative, and sometimes they are just because she doesn’t feel like telling the truth.  She uses frank admissions about her previous lies as a way to throw the reader off balance, or as an attempt to gain trust.  It’s fascinating to watch, especially later in the book when she has dug deep into many half-truths and flat-out lies.  She begins keeping a tally of lies to the reader that she has admitted to:

“How many lies is that now?  I’m losing track.

But surely it’s not so big a lie, really?  I don’t think I’ll include it in the official tally.  It was just to Sarah and Tayshawn.  And you.

Now I’m telling the truth.” (pg. 284, reviewed from ARC)

Micah’s mind games are as internal as they are external.  Her machinations and her complex relationship with truth and lies made this book compulsively readable.

One more thing: this cover is gorgeous, no?  I love it on it’s own.  I love it a lot less after reading the book.  It’s a whole lot more playful looking than the book actually is, for one thing.  But also, it looks nothing at all like Micah – her very short hair, her mixed race, and her ability to pass as a boy are mentioned several times in the novel.  Unless Micah was lying about that, too…  One more thing to think about, I guess.  (Edited to add: this is definitely not the case!  If you haven’t yet, please read Justine Larbalestier’s thoughts on the cover of Liar here.)

Justine Larbalestier on the web.

Justine’s excellent blog.

Liar on the web.

Review copy provided by publisher.

How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier

How to Ditch Your FairyI have an ulterior motive for reviewing How to Ditch Your Fairy: writing a review gives me a good excuse to post the book’s amazing paperback cover.  Go ahead and take a minute – get a real good look at that sucker.  Take that, Tinkerbell!  Now, we all know what they say about books and covers.  But we’re going to ignore that for the moment – I’m giving you permission to judge this one.  Because this book is very funny, a little bit subversive, and just sweet enough for some bright purple cursive script.

If you live in New Avalon and you’re unexpectedly good at something, you’ve probably got a fairy.  It could be something amazing, like Rochelle’s clothes-shopping fairy.  It could be something mostly useless, like a loose-change-finding fairy.  Or it could be something that gets you unceremoniously stuffed into the back of a massive hockey player’s car every afternoon, like Charlie’s parking fairy.  Charlie doesn’t have a car.  Charlie doesn’t even LIKE cars, and she sure is sick of the smell of gasoline that seems to follow her around.  When Charlie finds out that her arch-enemy Fiorenze is trying to get rid of her all-boys-like-you fairy, they hatch a plan to make a switch.

New Avalon is just different enough to make things interesting in Larbalestier’s world – and Steffi, the love interest, is conveniently new to town.  His presence both provides a way to add some exposition about the many quirks of New Avalon, and also gives a voice to the readers’ questions and frustrations about the local customs. Steffi makes a great voice of reason when everyone around him goes on about the Ours – New Avalon’s local celebrities – or when the rules and restrictions at Charlie’s school seem way over the top.  He’s also helpful for translating the slang, which I found sometimes clever and sometimes just distracting.

Charlie attends the local sports high school, where calorie counts are mandatory for all students, discipline is tight, and getting too many demerits means missing game time.  And Charlie absolutely thrives on all of this.  It was one thing that made her feel very different from characters in many YA novels, where creativity and a quirkiness are the traits that are glorified much of the time.   Some people prefer having rules to follow and high standards to strive for – and it’s nice to see one of those people show up in a book every once in a while.

The novel initially raised a lot of wonderful questions about the fairies.  For one thing, not everyone in New Avalon believes that they exist, and no one really knows what they are, where they come from, or why some people have them.  There seems to be some religious aspect to the fairies – people who don’t believe in them are not likely to have one, and are sometimes called “agnostics.”  Fiorenze’s mother is a fairy expert, and Charlie and Fiorenze are guided by her extensive research.  But Tamsin’s research is not just practical – it is ethical as well.  She brings up some questions about the possible consequences of switching fairies.  I was intrigued by a lot of these questions, and I wish they had been explored a little bit more – they mostly fall by the wayside as the story’s action takes off.

In the end, this was a good light read that I thought had the potential to be something more.  But don’t let that take away from the fun of the story.  It’s well worth reading for the luge scene alone!

Justine Larbalestier on the web.

Justine Larbalestier’s wonderful blog.